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by Kristina Murkett
Thursday, 21
September 2023
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07:00

Why do so many teenage girls feel unsafe?

A new survey found that nearly half are afraid to walk the streets alone
by Kristina Murkett
More than a quarter of girls polled said they feel anxious. Credit: Getty

A recent survey of 2000 young people aged 13-18 has revealed several worrying aspects of teenage behaviour. More than a quarter polled said they feel anxious all or most of the time. A fifth of girls said they had received unwanted nude images or videos from a peer, while a third of respondents said that comparing themselves to others on social media negatively affected their mood.

One of the most interesting insights from the survey was actually about physical rather than online safety. Of the girls surveyed, 44% said they did not feel safe while walking alone on the street, compared to 24% of boys. A quarter of girls said that they had experienced sexual harassment in some form, but this still suggests that a further 20% of girls feel threatened regardless. This fear only gets worse as girls get older: another study found that one in two women feel unsafe walking alone in the dark in a quiet street or busy public place (compared to one in seven men), while four in five women feel unsafe walking alone in the dark in a park or other open space (compared to two in five men).

Unfortunately, however, this perceived danger does not marry with reality. Men and teenage boys are almost twice as likely to be the victims of violent crime: in 2020/21, 70% of homicide victims were male, while over half of female victims were killed by their partner or ex-partner. In 2022 there were 106 murders in London; 25 of the victims were female, and almost all of them were killed at home by someone they knew. So why are women and girls still so scared on the street?

There are many potential reasons for this paranoia. True crime, with all its grisly stories of abduction, rape and torture, may be partly responsible for this hypervigilance. True crime audiences are about 73% female, and many posit that the genre’s popularity is because women use it as an educational tool, a way of detecting potential abusers and avoiding dangerous situations. The hosts of true crime podcast My Favourite Murder even wrote a book called Stay Sexy & Don’t Get Murdered: A Definitive How-To Guide

Yet by exposing ourselves to the most extreme, brutal, and — crucially — rare examples, we lose sight of the fact that murder rates have been falling every year since the 1990s, and serial killers make up less than 1% of murderers. We also forget that most murder victims are not white, young, pretty women.

Nonetheless, everywhere women and young girls are told that they have reasons to fear men. You can’t ride on the tube in London these days without seeing an advert warning against sexual harassment, while on both sides of the pond there are frightening stories about “rape culture” on university and college campuses. Then there are TikTok influencers uploading videos telling women and girls how to hold keys between their fingers most effectively, or why they shouldn’t walk with headphones in. There’s even a trend where content creators give users fake phone conversations to play if they feel unsafe in an Uber. 

Clearly these videos are meant to empower users, and we should educate people on how to manage potentially risky situations, but at what point does “safety first” become scare-mongering? At what point do we remind people that, although it’s good to be prepared, most people want to help you, not harm you? If we don’t, we risk allowing young people, and in particular girls, to become even more anxious than they already are.

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Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
2 months ago

I’m 6′ 2″ and beefy – and I’m scared to walk on some streets. I’m not surprised, given the almost complete absence of any police presence on our streets, that people much more vulnerable than me are increasingly afraid of public spaces.

William Shaw
William Shaw
2 months ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

The police are very present if you use “non-crime hate speech.”
It’s only when an actual crime is committed that they make themselves scarce.

Last edited 2 months ago by William Shaw
Kirsten Walstedt
Kirsten Walstedt
2 months ago
Reply to  William Shaw

This should be the new advice to anyone who feels unsafe walking at night. If you’re in trouble, loudly misgender someone! The police will be there in record time.

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
2 months ago

They will always feel unsafe while the BBC and other MSM outlets constantly tell them (and their mothers) that all men are potential rapists.

Andrew Dalton
Andrew Dalton
2 months ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

In fairness, it’s probably true at the BBC.

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
2 months ago

The narrative pushed is that women and girls should feel anxious and should be ready to complain about men’s behaviour making them anxious. In contrast men and boys are not encouraged to feel anxious and complain about the actually higher risks of harm to them from some men. The result is an unsurprisingly higher level of expressed anxiety by women than men.

At the same time it is ,of course, sensible for both men and women to take precautions to avoid putting themselves at extra risk by for example becoming excessively drunk and separated from protective friend on a night out or getting involved in altercations while drunk.

Last edited 2 months ago by Jeremy Bray
Dumetrius
Dumetrius
2 months ago

Seeing as we can’t do much about the anxiety – I’ve seen it get worse all my life due to increased media attention since it sold papers, and gets web clicks – one thing we could have is a more visible police presence on the streets.
What the hell do British police actually do?

Lindsay S
Lindsay S
2 months ago
Reply to  Dumetrius

“What the hell do British police actually do?“
Well they certainly haven’t inspired much confidence since Sarah Everard!

R S Foster
R S Foster
2 months ago
Reply to  Dumetrius

…hunt people guilty of “Wrong-think” on social media outlets?

Kirsten Walstedt
Kirsten Walstedt
2 months ago
Reply to  R S Foster

Show up at the door to say you’ve been seen photographing a sticker

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
2 months ago
Reply to  Dumetrius

Whatever the possible failings of police policy, they can realistically can only be in a few busy potential trouble spots at any time. They aren’t very likely statistically to be present in every urban or suburban street at exactly the same time as a young woman might wish to walk down them.

John Walsh
John Walsh
2 months ago

Every advert and promotion for a new crime series or film shows all the women as warriors leading the men into battle.So how is this possible if they are too scared to walk the streets alone at night?

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
2 months ago
Reply to  John Walsh

There seems to be a ready market among women for paranoid fear-mongering in the films they see on afternoon TV. I am struck by the sheer volume of films portraying women being manipulated and murderously attacked not by men but innocent-seeming female friends, neighbours and childminders.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
2 months ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

Nearly all modern crime dramas involve mad murderers who prey on women. Most are written by women authors. Everybody wants to read about the victim.
When I go running I pass men and women runners. The men say ‘Hi’ and the women look away. Do they expect help from me if they have a problem?

Last edited 2 months ago by Chris Wheatley
Kirsten Walstedt
Kirsten Walstedt
2 months ago
Reply to  John Walsh

I don’t think anyone is feeling much like a warrior outside of films

Tony Reardon
Tony Reardon
2 months ago

Every now and again, something happens that shocks you. The following is one that shocked me:
Three men who imprisoned a schoolgirl, held a machete to her throat and then raped her multiple times have been convicted. Detective Sergeant Charlotte Carter, of the North Area Safeguarding Team, said: “Roberto French, Abdisalam Mohamad and Hilal Mohamed put this young schoolgirl through a horrific ordeal. She was threatened with a machete, held against her will and raped multiple times.
The reason I was so shocked is that she was imprisoned exactly opposite the primary school that I attended in Enfield, North London. I did not live too far away and ,as a child, I walked to school every day and my parents had zero safety concerns.
Reasons to feel unsafe?

Albert McGloan
Albert McGloan
2 months ago
Reply to  Tony Reardon

This is, so we are led to believe, the price worth paying for the self-evident wonders of Diversity.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
2 months ago
Reply to  Albert McGloan

It is our strength

MJ Reid
MJ Reid
2 months ago
Reply to  Albert McGloan

I am a 60+ year old woman who is waiting for the scared gene to kick in. At school we were told of stranger danger. At college we were told about young men who would stop at nothing to get what they want. Then the rise of social media came… I have worked with rapists, child abusers, murderers and other men out on license, and never have I felt at risk. The only time I felt scared was in the distant past when a boyfriend regularly used his fists and feet on me until I found the courage to kick him into touch.

Albert McGloan
Albert McGloan
2 months ago
Reply to  MJ Reid

No-one wants you to live in fear, but being around “rapists, child abusers, murderers” and never feeling “at risk” is either ignorance or you are able to spot the truly dangerous men and haven’t had to deal with them. Very few women understand men so I doubt it’s the latter.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
2 months ago

Some clarity on rape statistics would also be helpful. 6 in 7 rapes and assaults against women are perpetrated by someone they know. The risk of being assaulted on the street is pretty low.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
2 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

The real clarity on rape statistics is that they are completely unreliable.

bdank22
bdank22
2 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

The writer presented nothing on assault or rape rapes, only murder rates. Why only murder rates? Of course, rape rates are notoriously unreliable. However, teenagers anxieties and fears are not related to stats. We live in a mediated world,and their fears are based on what is overloaded in the media. Putting it bluntly, many persons views of the world are based on what they view on TV, not what they personally view directly in the outside world

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
2 months ago
Reply to  bdank22

And most media narratives are based on a specific agenda, not what’s actually happening outside.

Simon Neale
Simon Neale
2 months ago

I can’t speak for all the other teenage girls that feel unsafe, but I plead guilty – in part – for making my own teenage daughter feel unsafe by explaining the dangers associated with the very large numbers of young men and boys from overseas who congregate on the sea-front where we live.
Boys, I explain to her, will often behave very badly indeed unless they know there will be consequences for their behaviour. Her male peers at school behave idiotically and offensively, but are restrained from going too far by the fact that they are known to her, the teachers, and have parents who value boundaries.
The young economic migr- …er, sorry, refugees, who appear to have nothing to occupy them and no means of identification are a different matter altogether. Some ride around on bikes apparently looking for any signs of something interesting happening. Others sit smoking, gazing wistfully out to sea, or at passers by. Doctors and engineers to a man, I’m sure, but if there had been a glitch in the system and these people harboured a few potential offenders in their midst…Why should they not offend? How could they possibly be identified, or caught, or brought to justice?
I would love my daughter and her friends to hang about on the beach, having fun and perhaps even being chatted up and cheeked by lads who share the same culture. No problem. But that cannot be, and I’ve got to become a nastier more suspicious person while I am having my nose rubbed in diversity. Thanks, political class!

Emre S
Emre S
2 months ago
Reply to  Simon Neale

Yeah right, because before “overseas” people came on these shores, British youth were nothing but lovely and well behaved. British drunkards, uniquely, aren’t being chased out of Spanish resorts, or British football hooligans aren’t terrorising the rest of the world. And all the unruliness on the streets is due solely to new arrivals, and not because of underfunded and stupidly managed police force or a school system that lost the plot about any form of discipline.

Last edited 2 months ago by Emre Emre
Simon Neale
Simon Neale
2 months ago
Reply to  Emre S

No, there was appalling misbehaviour and criminality by British youths, and there still is. My point is that suddenly having relatively large numbers of untraceable youths with an alien culture foisted upon us (did anyone ever ask us?) justifies my warning my daughter about the obvious dangers.
Note how your examples involve Brits going overseas and congregating in large groups where anonymity makes social control harder to enforce. Just as I don’t wish big crowds of young British men on our overseas neighbours, I don’t welcome being on the receiving end either.

Last edited 2 months ago by Simon Neale
MJ Reid
MJ Reid
2 months ago
Reply to  Emre S

Except it is not British yobs, is it? It is English yobs. Please be honest here.

Tobias Olds
Tobias Olds
2 months ago
Reply to  MJ Reid

I don’t see any reason to assume that scottish, welsh and irish youths wouldn’t and don’t get in on the hooligan action as well

Lindsay S
Lindsay S
2 months ago

When I went to university, we were informed that there were two serial rapists active in the area and girls were advised to move in groups, late at night (returning from nights out). This seemed a prudent course of action, in my view. On the rare occasion when I ventured out alone in the dark, I ensured that I wore everything I could to deter a predator. Big boots, big coat, belted jeans, as felt that too would be prudent.
I wouldn’t describe myself as anxious or fearful, however I do subscribe to Sod’s Law. Had I made myself vulnerable to exercise my rights, Sod’s Law says I’d live to regret it.

D Walsh
D Walsh
2 months ago
Reply to  Lindsay S

Was it actually true that there were two serial rapists in the area ?

Lindsay S
Lindsay S
2 months ago
Reply to  D Walsh

I have no idea as to how true it was however it was the police who advised us to take precautions. Back then (25 years ago) we had no reason to doubt them.

Saul D
Saul D
2 months ago

A more interesting take out from the survey link is that girls are more likely to feel anxious due to social media, (81% compared to 72% of boys), with their biggest worry being “Comparing myself to others on social media” (40% compared to 25% for boys). So social media itself creates competition between girls and that makes them more anxious.

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
2 months ago

If you have developed a systematic mindset where you are frightened by the reactions of phantoms on the net, why would you not be frightened of the physical world?

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
2 months ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

This.

Daniel Lee
Daniel Lee
2 months ago

Most people don’t die in car accidents, either, but we all wear our seat belts. If you’re a woman or young girl walking alone through a dark park or down the street or a deserted parking garage, it’s just common sense to be aware of your surroundings and of the possible need – however unlikely – to defend yourself.

Frank McCusker
Frank McCusker
2 months ago

We need to bring back chivalry. See my blog below.
At college in Belfast in the 1980s, statistically, the most assaulted demographic was males aged 19-26. Female students had a females-only night-bus to drop women students off at their digs / halls after a night out at the Union, whereas blokes had to walk home. My problem was I had a room in the city centre, where no normal person ever went after dark in the ‘80s, while 99.99% of students had places up the leafy Malone Road. Alone, I never felt safe on the streets at night, and was jumped and beaten up twice, by Belfast skinheads on a “good fight out”.  Wrecked my good Mod suit lol, and there’s a bit on the back of my head where no hair grows, because of the scarring. For the second beating, I was in the gutter, boots flying in, blood everywhere, and was saved only by a passing RUC armoured jeep. However, generally, for a bloke, this fear was confined to late nights at weekends. During the majority of the time, I had no concerns whatsoever – unless I was going into a rough area where nobody would be safe at any hour. Once, living in Dublin, I decided to save money by renting an apartment in the North inner city. Walking through the streets near to my apartment, wearing a suit and carrying a briefcase, I was targeted constantly by Dublin knackers, and had to leg it twice, with the ath-leisure-wearing young gentlemen in hot pursuit yelling “get his f***ing case”. I solved it by changing out my work clothes at work, and changing into gym gear (track-suit bottoms and hoodie), and doing a spot of training at a gym on the way home. Then, on entering the rougher streets, I pulled up the hood and adopted that shuffling / slouching chav gait, and nobody ever noticed me. I have to laugh when I read of women saying they should be free to walk anywhere wearing a short skirt etc. You might say that I should have had the right to walk home in a suit. But the reality was that, de facto, I had n such right, and to attempt to do so merely invited scumbags on to me, and only a fool would not take precautions so as not to draw attention to oneself. 
But I totally get it why women are afraid constantly. Half the blokes wandering about are off their faces, and the age of chivalry is dead. See my short blog on that:
“Somehow, we need to find a way out of the “men and women are identical” bullshit, and resurrect chivalry. If manliness and respect for women can once again become synonymous, you can put all your consent classes and safe spaces stuff in the bin, as they would no longer be needed. However, in an era where it can be career-suicide to raise the possibility that sex differences even exist, the chances of resurrecting chivalry are remote.”
See:
https://ayenaw.com/2021/11/27/howdy-maam/

l m
l m
2 months ago
Reply to  Frank McCusker

I mean I’m sympathetic to these arguments, but when chivalry was a thing did men actually assault or grope or harm women less or do we just imagine they did? Genuine question.

Last edited 2 months ago by l m
Jane Hickman
Jane Hickman
2 months ago

This article is troubling, its central premise being, “Unfortunately, however, this perceived danger does not marry with reality. Men and teenage boys are almost twice as likely to be the victims of violent crime….So why are women and girls still so scared on the street?”
This point, with which roughly half the comments (entirely from men), agree is an ill-concealed demand for women to reserve their concerns for men. But my own experience as a criminal lawyer for 40 years is that the majority of murders of men arose when they placed themselves in inherently risky situations – public confrontations, association with criminals, carrying weapons, drug dealing, pub fights, and so on. 
Meanwhile women meet unprovoked aggression on the street while simply engaged in ordinary activities such as shopping, commuting, meeting friends. It was happening to my generation when young from our teens onwards and it’s happening today to young women in a far more toxic form. Our daughters and granddaughters report the foulest abuse hurled at them by complete strangers, invariably men alone or in groups, on the street, often from cars or vans or on buses. . Also then sometimes the groping, the propositions, the threats of abduction, rape and murder. It’s impossible not to fear what greater harm could follow on this kind of abuse. And it’s not something you just forget.
All thanks to the male readers who got this point. But how many times does it have to be made to get a clear majority of men to believe it?

Last edited 2 months ago by Jane Hickman
Dominic A
Dominic A
2 months ago
Reply to  Jane Hickman

Very interesting, powerful point. You can also add the fact of men’s physical strength and propensity for violence – pretty scary if you are the woman. It’d be interesting to know if verbal abuse on the streets has increased, and if so, the extent to which this explains the increased fear. Another factor seems to be ‘safetyism’ – just as immune system overreactions (allergies etc) have greatly increased in step with a cleaner environment, so fear (a psychological immune reaction) has increased as the environment has actually become safer, and people have fewer encounters with threat and danger. I suspect also that just as men underestimate what women put up with (from both sexes), so it may be that many women underestimate what men put with (from both sexes).

Kirsten Walstedt
Kirsten Walstedt
2 months ago
Reply to  Jane Hickman

EXACTLY.

Kirk Susong
Kirk Susong
2 months ago
Reply to  Jane Hickman

I don’t think this point is lost on anybody.

M Doors
M Doors
2 months ago

“Clearly these videos are meant to empower users…”
They really aren’t.

Dominic A
Dominic A
2 months ago

“Unfortunately, however, this perceived danger does not marry with reality”

Surely this is fortuntate, not unfortunate?

Cynthia W.
Cynthia W.
2 months ago

I don’t think murder statistics are a complete argument against the premise that public places are unsafe.

Paul Thompson
Paul Thompson
2 months ago

The moral panic about “sexual assault” is part of this. It is now part of popular culture that 1 in 4 women will be sexually assaulted. This is a complete fallacy. The original rate of “sexual assault” conflated “unwanted kiss” with “brutal rape by a stranger”. In point of fact, more like 1 in 200-500 of women will be assaulted. Yet we as a society have succeeded in terrifying young women. The huge downside is that this has created a bigger problem – lack of trust of young women regarding young men. Young men are now far less able to get past the heightened defensive mechanisms of women. The leads to the “incel” issue.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
2 months ago
Reply to  Paul Thompson

I’m not entirely disputing what you’re saying, but there is a huge problem you’re overlooking—porn. Porn shows some incredibly violent episodes, and young women have seen it. What woman wants to be choked, spit on or have violent a**l sex? I think a lot of young women are afraid of sex, which is supported by the dismal numbers of how many men and women aren’t having sex. It could be behind the high number of teen girls who are claiming to be boys/men. Anyway, this is tragic for both sexes and is probably why women are shying away from men.

Kirk Susong
Kirk Susong
2 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

I’m all in favor of banning porn. It’s bad for men and women both.

Kirsten Walstedt
Kirsten Walstedt
2 months ago
Reply to  Paul Thompson

So it’s actually the men who suffer?

MJ Reid
MJ Reid
2 months ago
Reply to  Paul Thompson

And you know this how? I have had the forced kiss on the lips by an older man, which is assault. I have been sexually assaulted at work by service users while my male colleagues have clapped and cheered. And I have been sexually assaulted on a train and when I reported, the ticket collector said to me – get over it, it was just a bit of slap and tickle. It wasnt, it was groping and twisting and a stranger’s hand where I wouldn’t want a strange man to touch me. There have been other more minor attacks too. All my female friends have gone through similar attacks. So it is not a fallacy except in the minds of men who think they are allowed to do whatever they want whenever they want to the women of their choosing. The difference between me and other women is that these attacks have consequences for the men involved not always involving the law…

michael morris
michael morris
2 months ago

I reccomend reading ‘the coddling of the American mind’ by Haidt and Lukianoff

Dominic A
Dominic A
2 months ago
Reply to  michael morris

As borne out by recent research showing that, duh, trigger warnings only serve to prime the ‘vulnerable’ for fear reactions. A psychological phenomena that has been known for decades – but that reality, and the students’ welfare, is trumped by the schools/lawyers/activists need to to seen to be angelic.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
2 months ago

Ask Mr Plod!

Dougie Undersub
Dougie Undersub
2 months ago

Scaring people enables you to control them, “for your own good”. This is just another aspect of the ubiquitous scaremongering about climate change, Covid, crime, or just speaking freely about contentious issues.
The least defensible aspect of this is when adults intentionally scare children in the process of inculcating their beliefs into the young. No wonder there’s an increase in mental distress amongst children.

Last edited 2 months ago by Dougie Undersub
Right-Wing Hippie
Right-Wing Hippie
2 months ago

Clearly these videos are meant to empower users
No they’re not.

Rohan Moore
Rohan Moore
2 months ago

Our vaunted ‘free press’ information ecosystem has done to the truth what internet pornography has done to sex.

laurence scaduto
laurence scaduto
2 months ago

This anxiety crisis has got to end! It’s trashing our societies. The fact that nearly everyone is on some medication (aka “my meds”) is evidently not helping.
Odd that it all began, not after 9/11 (2001), but after the advent of the iphone (2007ish).
I never got in the habit, so it’s easy for me to say, but perhaps y’all should give it a break! Go for a walk without it. Turn off the ringer for dinner time. Have your morning cooffee in peace. For cryin’ out loud! Do something!

Last edited 2 months ago by laurence scaduto
Mike Buchanan
Mike Buchanan
2 months ago

Why do so many teenage girls feel unsafe? Because feminists in the mainstream media and elsewhere have long preyed on hard-wired female anxiety and detached women and girls from reality. Far more men and boys are assaulted in the public sphere than women and girls. The UK is a very safe place for women and girls in particular.
Feminists are the only group in the world deliberately seeking to make women and girls more anxious than they would naturally be, to drive their lucrative industries, notably domestic violence and rape.
Mike Buchanan
JUSTICE FOR MEN & BOYS
http://j4mb.org.uk

bdank22
bdank22
2 months ago
Reply to  Mike Buchanan

How about getting more specific, and add feminist lawyers.

Emre S
Emre S
2 months ago

four in five women feel unsafe walking alone in the dark in a park or other open space (compared to two in five men).

Feeling unsafe walking alone in the dark in a park seems perfectly reasonable to me in Britain. Parks are the domain of drug and alcohol fuelled teenagers at night.

Unfortunately, however, this perceived danger does not marry with reality. Men and teenage boys are almost twice as likely to be the victims of violent crime

Seems to tally quite well to me. According to the above, about half of the men (40%) feel unsafe compared to the 80% of women who do, so it’d make sense that double the number of men fall victim to violent crime.

Last edited 2 months ago by Emre Emre
Gerard McGlynn
Gerard McGlynn
2 months ago

As asmall boy I roamed the streets of Glasgow unknown to my mother, who thought I was just around the corner. Walking from Cardonald to Paisley ( Never got there) I met many weirdos, as I innocently thought they were, but I now recognise some of them as paedophiles, however they managed to reign themselves in because the death penalty was still in force, and if you merely interfered with a child is was life. Much the same for rape then. The abolition of the death penalty has debased the tariff. Now we have people who should be executed in prison for life at £60, 000 pounds a year ( price of two nurses ). It used to be death for murder, rape , and arson. Wher did we go wrong??